In a packed meeting room in the back of the Benton County Library last Thursday, the who’s who of Corvallis City Planning rubbed elbows with local environmental researchers and advocates. The Environmental Issues Advisory Committee held its yearly public meeting, aimed at bringing technical expertise and public comment to planners and visionaries with public policy influence.
The committee is charged with aiding county officials in shaping and implementing environmentally sound policies. This year’s meeting resonated with the excitement and urgency of a growing climate crisis. A diverse group of city staffers and officials that included all three Benton County commissioners listened attentively as three experts rolled out climate change adaptation plans.
Public Health’s Brian Cooke talked about the challenge of planning for climate-related catastrophe in Benton County. Eventually, Cooke found himself drafting climate change plans that jived with his background in emergency preparedness planning. ”There was no real way of coming at the planning itself, until I went with what I was familiar with,” he said.
Cooke also addressed the concerns of climate skeptics, and urged pragmatism when preparing public policy for climate change-related disasters. “What if it happens, and the county didn’t do anything about it? We’ve got egg on our face.”
Oregon State ecology professor Richard Waring also gave a presentation.
“You don’t know how lucky you are, living in the Willamette Valley,” Waring chuckled. He referred to the area between the Cascades and the Coast Range as one of the areas projected to be most sheltered from the effects of climate change.
“Western Oregon shows relatively little change in the mean temperature, but a lot of spatial variety. We are in a bubble,” he said.
Waring’s talk focused on preparing forests for coming fires and floods. He encouraged policy planners to use incidents like September’s Chip Ross fire as a way to get the public on board with more responsible forest management plans.
OSU engineering professor Dave Bella rounded out the evening with a talk about car-free community planning. Bella rolled out his plans for a car-free community west of the OSU campus.
Bella connected Corvallis’ need for a car-free community with, “We have to have an outstanding example. Corvallis is a very car-friendly place. This is car heaven!”
While car-dependent living can be the results of habits, Bella argued that surroundings play a central role in determining how people commute and run errands. “Behaviors arrive because of the infrastructures that we’ve built.”